Tuesday 6 April 2021 10:23 am

McLaren 620R review: road racer serves up raw driving thrills

The expression ‘race car for the road’ is overused, but the 620R is the real deal: a 570S GT4 with treaded tyres and number plates. It’s also a final flourish for McLaren’s entry-level Sports Series before the new Artura arrives. With at least 120hp more than its motorsport cousin, it isn’t going quietly.

If you aren’t up to speed with the Artura, check out our in-depth preview. The £185,500 plug-in hybrid pairs a 3.0-litre V6 with an electric motor for a combined 680hp. It blasts to 62mph in 3.0 seconds, yet emits just 129g/km of CO2. It even offers an electric-only range of 18.6 miles.

After a decade of basing everything around its venerable V8, the Artura is a Ctrl-Alt-Del reboot for McLaren. Soon, its carbon fibre tub and petrol/electric powertrain will spawn a new generation of supercars. We’ll discover how it drives this summer, but the outgoing Sports Series – 540C, 570S, 570GT and 600LT – has set a high bar. The limited edition, £250,000 620R reaches higher still.

McLaren 620R
(McLaren)

If the 600LT was McLaren’s answer to a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, the 620R is even more extreme. It shares its DNA with the 570S GT4, which competes in the British GT Championship and one-make Pure McLaren GT series. 

While the racing car is restricted to 450-500hp, the 620R’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 musters 620 horses (hence the name) at a searing 7,500rpm. Helped by a kerb weight of 1,386kg and chewing-gum Pirelli Trofeo R tyres, that means 0-62mph in just 2.9 seconds. Top speed is 200mph on the nose.

Sadly, I didn’t have chance to try the 620R on-track, so this is purely a road review. But we already know the 570S GT4 is a formidable machine with numerous race-wins to its name. Subjecting it to London traffic, the M25 and yes, the great British B-road, is arguably an even tougher test.

McLaren 620R
(McLaren)

The 620R seems to have taken a wrong turn after the Hangar Straight and ended up in Surrey suburbia. Downforce-boosting nostrils and scalpel-sharp dive planes adorn its front end, while its centre-lock wheels and aggressively angled wing are similar to those on the GT4. 

You can’t miss the roof scoop, either. It’s part of the £25,000 MSO Defined R Pack, which also includes a carbon fibre roof and louvred front wings, plus track telemetry cameras and a titanium sports exhaust. 

As for the GT4-inspired stickers, thankfully they’re a no-cost option. I’m all for McLaren’s signature orange, but the OTT livery detracts from what is still a fantastic supercar shape. 

McLaren 620R
(McLaren)

Swing the door upwards, steady yourself on the windscreen pillar, then freefall into the deep and sparsely padded ‘Senna’ seat. No matter how many times you try, this process never looks graceful. At least the hard-backed carbon buckets – optional on the 600LT, standard here – are comfier than they look. 

Once ensconced, there’s a choice of a conventional, three-point seatbelt or six-point racing harness. Fabric door straps and a raised centre console help you reach everything if you’re locked into place by the latter.

The dashboard is swathed in Alcantara, but there are no carpets and much of the cabin is naked carbon fibre. Prod the start button, the engine fires and the unpadded trim tizzes in anticipation. A 12-speaker audio system is optional and fitted here, yet it fights a losing battle in this echo chamber of induction, exhaust and tyre roar.

McLaren 620R
(McLaren)

Still, who needs a stereo when you have a roof scoop? The air intake transforms the V8’s previously rather prosaic soundtrack with its gasps and whooshes. Pin the throttle and it gulps air like Darth Vader dragging on a Marlboro Red (don’t think about the logistics of that). Back off and it exhales like a WRC dump valve, inches from your eardrums.

This most powerful iteration of the Sports Series is still docile around town, but a giddy rush of turbocharged torque (peak is 457lb ft at 5,500rpm) is never far away. Find a sufficiently long and empty road – no mean feat in the Home Counties – and it’s utterly explosive, piling on speed as your mouth goes dry and your brain struggles to keep up.   

McLaren’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is the perfect foil for that boosty engine, too. Its paddles have a wonderfully mechanical clunk, while the Inertia Push system, which converts flywheel energy into extra torque on upshifts, serves up relentless forward momentum. 

McLaren 620R
(McLaren)

This ruthlessly focused feel also extends to how the 620R stops, steers and changes direction. Its carbon ceramic discs are mighty, yet easy to modulate, thanks to a vacuum pump that maintains pedal travel as temperatures rise.

Its alert and endlessly talkative steering is hydraulic, rather than a CO2-saving electric setup – a McLaren USP that’s even been carried over to the hybrid Artura. Long may it last.

And its chassis, a carbon tub on coilover suspension with manually adjustable GT4 dampers, feels taut and tied-down. Grip is tenacious, balance is superb and body-roll is almost non-existent. Simply point the nose and the rest follows. You sense the car’s lightness and lack of inertia.

McLaren 620R
(McLaren)

For me, the only issue arises on bumpy routes, where the race-rigid 620R sniffs out cambers and can be deflected mid-corner. Ride quality is acceptable for a car of this type, but you need a firm hand on the (tactile, completely button-free) wheel to maintain your trajectory. I occasionally winced at the sound of the front splitter kissing the tarmac, too. 

In such a scenario, which covers a large percentage of UK roads, the 620R is harder work and perhaps less fun than a 600LT. For a car that costs about 40 percent more, that isn’t ideal.

Then again, the 620R is something quite unique. It’s a last-of-the-line limited edition, of course. But unlike even McLaren’s range-topping Ultimate Series cars, the P1, Senna and Speedtail, it’s a genuine (yep, I’m going to say it) race car for the road. It doesn’t let you forget that for one second.

McLaren 620R
(McLaren)

All this is academic anyway, because you can’t buy one. The last of the 225 cars left the Woking factory in mid-March, adding a full-stop to the Sports Series story. 

All eyes are now on the Artura. Can a car born from environmental and legislative necessity possibly deliver such unfettered driving excitement? If anyone can square that circle, I suspect McLaren can. Don’t forget that the P1 was a plug-in hybrid, after all.

No doubt we’ll see harder, faster versions of the Artura as time goes on, too. You’re looking at the car against which they’ll be judged.

Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research

PRICE: £250,000 (£285,680 as tested)

POWER: 620hp

0-62MPH: 2.9 seconds

TOP SPEED: 200mph

FUEL ECONOMY: 23.2mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS: 278g/km

WEIGHT: 1,386kg

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